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What’s Driving Biden’s Approval Rating Up?


Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

After hitting a low of 37.5 percent in July, President Biden’s approval rating has ticked up over 5 percentage points in FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker. While he’s still underwater, at 42.7 percent, it is nonetheless a substantial change.

But will Biden’s upswing continue?

It’s not a huge mystery why some voters — especially Biden’s own — might be happier with his administration: He’s delivered on quite a few campaign promises recently. After Democratic leaders spent months trying to gain West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s support for broad economic and climate-change legislation, Manchin finally agreed to a compromise at the end of July, and Biden signed the law, the Inflation Reduction Act, on Aug. 16. Among other things, the law reduces prescription drug prices for seniors and invests broadly in green energy, including through tax credits to consumers who buy environmentally friendly goods like electric vehicles. 

The Inflation Reduction Act came after an already busy summer stretch, too. At the end of June, Biden signed a bipartisan gun-safety bill, the first major legislation on the issue in about 28 years. Meanwhile, on Aug. 1, he announced that the U.S. had killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, who became the al-Qaeda leader after Osama bin Laden’s death in 2011, in a drone strike. That news struck the opposite tone from the big foreign-policy story last August that arguably started Biden’s downward approval trajectory: the messy withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the critical news coverage that followed. And on Aug. 10, Biden signed legislation that makes it easier for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan to receive medical benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

It’s too recent to be picked up in much polling, but last week Biden also announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness, keeping a promise he made on the campaign trail in 2020. So far, a Quinnipiac University poll conducted Aug. 25-29 found that Americans approved of the plan, 53 percent to 43 percent. The move was long a priority of the left wing of Biden’s base. It might also help him with young voters — whom Biden has struggled with lately — as they are more likely to have student loan debt and are worried about their future financial independence.

But more than the impact of any one legislative action, it is likely the steady stream of news that has helped Biden the most. The administration is finally ticking items off a long to-do list, helping to counter the narrative that the White House wasn’t getting much done

That said, both Morning Consult and Gallup found that Biden’s approval went up not just with Democrats but also with independents. In the Gallup poll, Biden’s approval jumped 9 points with independents since July.

This is likely because there is more at play than legislative victories. Namely, inflation seems to be cooling, which could hint at a more basic reason for why Biden’s disapproval has declined: Gas prices have steadily tumbled since hitting their peak in June. On top of that, the job market remains strong. Americans’ worry about the economy also seems to be easing some. The Quinnipiac poll found that Americans’ approval of Biden’s handling of the economy had changed the most of any issue surveyed, jumping to 37 percent from 28 percent in July. 

It’s possible, too, that the overall political environment is just better than expected for Democrats. Since the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion in June, Democrats have outperformed expectations in special elections. They’ve also improved their standing in the generic ballot, which asks voters which party they’d support in the race for Congress, signaling that 2022 could be an unusual midterm election. (Historically, the president’s party usually struggles in the midterms.) In some ways, then, Biden’s approval rating is a lagging indicator of the change in fortune Democrats were already experiencing.

In the meantime, former President Donald Trump continues to dominate the news after the FBI searched his home in Florida for classified information he kept there in violation of the Presidential Records Act, which requires presidents to turn over any written materials related to their official duties. Information continues to pour out about the sensitive documents found there. It’s unclear how much this episode will help or hurt Trump, but polls do show that most Americans are aware of this news and think it’s a problem. During his 2020 campaign, Biden promised a return to normalcy after Trump’s tumultuous tenure, so it’s not unreasonable to think that the news from Mar-a-Lago might remind some voters why they chose Biden in the first place. 

But, of course, the midterms are still two months away, and Biden still has two more years in his first term. Given the volatility of the past month in his approval rating, there’s still plenty of time for it to go down once more. Then again, maybe Biden is, at long last, on the rebound.

Other polling bites

  • Republicans are more likely than Democrats to view military and law enforcement organizations favorably — except when it comes to the FBI or Capitol Police. According to an Aug. 20-23 poll from The Economist/YouGov, just one-third of Republicans (35 percent) have a very or somewhat favorable perception of the FBI, which is a huge difference from the share who have positive views on the Army (93 percent) or local police forces (87 percent). It also greatly varies from how Democrats view the FBI (72 percent have a favorable opinion). Views toward law enforcement also varied widely by age, with 91 percent of Americans age 65 or older viewing local police favorably versus only 51 percent of those ages 18 to 29.
  • It’s not just inflation. Americans are also experiencing “shrinkflation,” the trend in which product quantity decreases despite stagnant or rising prices, especially in grocery stores. Morning Consult recently found that about two-thirds of Americans are very (33 percent) or somewhat concerned (32 percent) about the trend, and those who’ve noticed it are pursuing a host of different options. About half of respondents who’ve noticed shrinkflation said they’ve instead purchased a different brand (49 percent), while a similar percentage (48 percent) reported opting for the generic product. Thirty-three percent have also chosen to buy affected items in bulk, rather than in smaller quantities. Meanwhile, 30 percent said shrinkflation has led them to stop purchasing from a particular brand altogether.
  • Parents of school-aged children are less likely than other Americans to support COVID-19 restrictions and protocols, per a YouGov survey conducted Aug. 3-5. Asked about a hypothetical future pandemic, 38 percent said they would oppose vaccine requirements, compared with 31 percent of all adults. The survey, however, revealed glaring differences between parents of kids in school based on their 2020 ballot: Sixty-six percent of parents who voted for Biden would favor future vaccine requirements, while only 20 percent of those who voted for Trump agreed.
  • An overwhelming share of Americans predominantly pay for items electronically, as opposed to in cash. A July 5-26 poll from Gallup revealed that almost three-quarters use cash for less than half (13 percent), only a few (49 percent) or none (11 percent) of their purchases, while the other quarter uses cash for half (13 percent), most (8 percent) or all (5 percent) of their purchases. Yet the breakdown is inconsistent across income brackets. A far larger share of those from households annually making less than $40,000 use cash for at least half of their purchases (41 percent), compared with those with household incomes above $100,000 (14 percent). Further, respondents felt a shift in usage from five years ago, when 53 percent said they paid in cash for at least half of their purchases. And with 64 percent of adults saying the U.S. is likely to become a cashless society in their lifetime, that trend seems to fit the bill.

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.7 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 53.0 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.3 points). At this time last week, 41.5 percent approved and 53.8 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -12.3 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 39.9 percent and a disapproval rating of 55.8 percent, for a net approval rating of -15.9 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 0.9 percentage points (44.6 percent to 43.6 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 0.4 points (44.0 percent to 43.6 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Republicans by 0.3 points (44.4 percent to 44.1 percent).

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